Katie in the screenprinting lab, working with electroluminescent inks.

Coming from a background in English literature and creative writing, I have always had a strong relationship with the printed word. I was compelled by the myriad emotions and thoughts that could be conveyed with tiny letters on paper. This connection stayed with me, and as I grew into the field of graphic design, my fascination with letterforms and what they convey stayed with me. I started to wonder, what is the connection between these forms that surround us, and the meaning they create?

I began studying semiotics, and after reading Umberto Eco’s Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language and Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, I was struck with the ethereality of meaning, and encountered a concept I had not encountered before; the notion that even printed text is fallible and changeable. Eco says, “Texts generate, or are capable of generating, multiple (and ultimately infinite) readings and interpretations.” This was what he called the Model Q—the notion that all communication is based on context, and that messages have no inherent or ultimate meaning. In other words, everything we say or write only gains significance through its relationships to other words, and that every individual, coming from different backgrounds and different histories, will never be able to communicate exactly what they mean to one another because no one can ever understand someone else exactly.

It is a terrifying and also exhilarating concept: this proliferation of meaning to infinite ends. My work explores this ethereality, this fleeting nature, and this reliance upon context by not relying on one method or medium, but instead exploring the many facets of interpretation through the use of typography and technologies that are unstable, in flux, or unreliable. Through the use of various experimental typefaces that I have designed that will be screenprinted, projected and printed, I will convey the messy and confused nature of communication by pressing the viewer to interact with the work and asking them to examine their own interpretations of texts and messages that are displayed.

I also explore the importance of context when creating meaning with the use of a mutable typeface I have designed. A mutable typeface is a font (for example, Times New Roman, bold) in which the type designer creates multiple glyphs, or versions for each letter. My typeface contains versions of each letter that grow more and more abstract, creating words that begin to also grow more abstract and difficult to read, forcing the viewer to rely on the letters’ and words’ relationships to each other in order to read the texts. By developing new ways of viewing and relating to letterforms and texts, I challenge the idea that meaning is concrete and derived from one location, and instead posit the idea that all meaning is dependent on environment, miscommunication and interpretation.